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Efes is in Milan, Coach Messina: “They’re playing like they did last season, we’ll try to improve”


Olimpia closes its EuroLeague regular season with a game against Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Friday night, April 9th (20:45 is tip-off time). Both teams are already qualified for the playoffs, which will be the first for Olimpia since 2014. Over the last thirty years, Olimpia has finished the European season among the top eight teams only three more times, in 1992 when it reached the Final Four, in 1997 when it was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Olimpia Ljubljana and in 2014 when it was ousted by Maccabi Tel Aviv. Efes has been the best team in the second half of the season with a 14-2 record, and the only defeats suffered in St. Petersburg (the answer was to win eight in a row) and Munich (by one point). Efes has won the last three or 11 of the last 12. An impressive pace similar to the last season’s ride when Efes was solidly in first place when the season was interrupted. Olimpia obtained an extraordinary win in Istanbul in December through a dominant first half and then a sensational comeback in the final few minutes after slipping down by six in the fourth quarter. Kyle Hines was crucial at the defensive end of the floor, with two big blocks over Adrien Moerman and Vasiljie Micic, and Kevin Punter offensively, with a four-point play and a mid-range jumper. Both teams are qualified, but the last round will decide their final position in the standings. Even with a loss, Efes will be third, while by winning they still have a chance to finish second. Olimpia would be mathematically fourth if it wins, otherwise the position will be determined by the other results.

COACH ETTORE MESSINA – “We face a team who’s returned to play at the high-quality level shown during the last season, when they dominated the league. Obviously, containing their pick and roll will be crucial, but it’s easier to say it than to realize it on the court. Still, we come off two very productive practice days and we are looking forward to improve our game. Unfortunately, we’ll probably miss Kyle Hines due to a physical problem, but we are happy to have Malcolm Delaney back, even under a minute-restriction.”

GIGI DATOME – “We play an opponent who’s clearly healthy and in great shape, so it’s going to be a very difficult game. We are looking forward to finish the regular season in the best possible way, and take advantage of any potential standing ramifications.”

THE REFEREES – Miguel Angel Perez (Spain), Olegs Latisevs (Latvia), Gytis Vilius (Lithuania).

EFES – Ergin Ataman coaches Efes for the fourth consecutive year and is in the third consecutive 20-win season. Continuity is the main feature of the Turkish team: of the top 11 players per minutes played, seven have been at Efes for three seasons, one for four (Simon), one for six (Dunston), one for 10 seasons (Balbay). The exception is Chris Singleton who is still in his second year. During the season, Efes also signed Dzanan Musa from the NBA (Brooklyn), but so far, he has played sporadically. Offensively, the greatest dangers come from the Larkin-Micic duo who averages 31.8 points and 9.3 assists per game. Larkin usually does not start, in favor of Rodrigue Beaubois (47.3 percent from three). As a small forward normally the starter is Kruno Simon (10.9 points on average, 41.5 percent from three), alternatively there is James Anderson (44.4 percent from three). At the power forward spot, Frenchman Adrien Moerman (7.0 points and 4.9 rebounds) is an alternative to Chris Singleton (5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds). The Turkish center Sertac Sanli (7.7 points per game, 69.1 percent from two) is growing quickly and has a slightly higher playing time than the German Tibor Pleiss. Bryant Dunston is the defense anchor. Worth noting is the presence on the court of the first two-best shot-blockers in the history, Dunston and Kyle Hines.

HISTORY LESSON – Olimpia has played against Efes 29 times in the EuroLeague since 2005/06 with a record of 9-20. Last year, Efes won 81-76 in Milan with 17 points from Shane Larkin and 14 plus 12 rebounds from Tibor Pleiss. For Olimpia, 11 points and nine assists came from Sergio Rodriguez. The current season, Olimpia won the first leg in Istanbul 72-69 with 18 points from Kevin Punter. The overall record is 21-11 for Efes and includes the 1996 Korac Cup.

THE EFES CONNECTION – Krunoslav Simon played in Milan for two seasons, winning one Italian league championship, two Italian Cups and a Super Cup in which he was named MVP after scoring 25 points in the championship game against Avellino. He is in his fourth season at Efes. Bryant Dunston played a year in Varese in 2012/13, then at Olympiacos for the current Olimpia general manager, Christos Stavropoulos. Malcolm Delaney and Chris Singleton played together at Lokomotiv Kuban reaching the EuroLeague Final Four in 2016.


NOTES – Gigi Datome is second behind only Kyle Kuric (Barcelona) in three-point shooting at 53.09 percent. Zach LeDay is sixth at 48.21 percent. Shavon Shields has an active streak of 11 consecutive double-digit games. Kevin Punter hit 28 consecutive free throws before missing the 29th. Vlado Micov has surpassed 700 rebounds in his career and is now eight rebounds shy of 300 for Olimpia. Jeff Brooks has passed the 300 rebounds with Olimpia and the 500 rebounds for his career. Kaleb Tarczewski has surpassed 700 career points, all scored playing for Olimpia. He is the fifth to do so. He is now fourth overall behind Vlado Micov, Alessandro Gentile and Curtis Jerrells.